Thursday, December 17, 2009

Tackling Cuba's Food Service Blues

Tackling Cuba's Food Service Blues
December 17, 2009
Yusimi Rodriguez

HAVANA TIMES, Dec. 17 - In a previous piece I wrote about the many tasks
that a State gastronomy, or food service, worker has to perform in this
country in order to carry out their job. This isn't an isolated instance.

The service and the quality of the products that are offered by the
State food establishments leave much to be desired, although we should
recognize that things have improved in relation to the decade of the

However, the quality of these eateries is still far below those where
you pay in hard currency or in the so called private cafeterias. Such
comparison by the clients is nearly inevitable.

The salaries in the food service sector also offer no stimulus to the
workers. Hence, it has become a normal practice to give the client less
than the portion established by the companies in order to generate
leftovers that can be sold later under the table. This has become the
principal goal of a food service worker.

The 1968 Offensive and its Consequences

Could this be the consequence of erroneous policies from the past?

On March 13, 1968, five months after the death of Che in Bolivia, Fidel
Castro announced a "Revolutionary Offensive" against "the last vestiges
of capitalism and the bourgeois morality." Previous to this, in the
years immediately following the 1959 revolution, the large US owned
companies in the country had been nationalized and the Agrarian Reform
law had been proclaimed.

However, the revolutionary offensive of 1968 came out of the goal of
constructing "true communism" in Cuba. Under communism the means of
production should be placed in the hands of the workers, who up until
that moment owned nothing more than the force of their labor. As such,
they were forced to work for a salary - minimal to say the least - and
to put up with very long work days.

In the 24 hours that followed the 13th of March of 1968, 58,012 small
businesses including shoe repair shops, tiny watch repair shops, barber
shops, old linotype businesses, fried food stalls, small businesses and
even ovens for making charcoal were nationalized or closed.

The Cuban workers who, as I've said, up until that moment owned only the
force of their labor…continued to possess nothing more than this force,
since all of the means of production then became property of the State.

But in this way the State also acquired a burden. It wasn't really
evident during the eighties, because we still enjoyed a comfortable
economic situation, thanks to our trade with the now defunct socialist
camp. The state establishments were well stocked with merchandise at
prices affordable to the public.

The Government Had No Choice

But in the decade of the nineties, with the arrival of the so-called
Special Period there was less and less available in the cafeterias and
restaurants. An acquaintance who worked as an administrator during that
era told me of his experiences.
Private tamale seller.

Private tamale seller. Photo: Elio Delgadp

The company directors told them that they had to be apt administrators
and be able to work within the circumstances of the Special Period; they
had to find a way to supply the eating establishments and resolve
problems regarding transportation of the supplies they obtained, all
without making waves within the State enterprise, since the company
couldn't take on these problems.

The government had no choice but to permit individuals to work for
themselves; not only to cover those necessities that the State couldn't,
but also as a source of employment. People received licenses to open
small culinary establishments, or to make handicrafts on their own,
repair household appliances, etc. But the State has continued to
control a large part of the small eating establishments and stands.

As of almost a year ago, Granma, the newspaper that is the Official
Organ of the Cuban Communist Party, has included a page where readers
have the opportunity to discuss and offer their criteria regarding the
realities of Cuban life (as long as they aren't directly criticizing the
government or the system). This page is published each Friday.

Getting Beyond a Burden

On November 27, a revolutionary comrade who is also a member of the
Cuban Communist Party recalls how he supported the Revolutionary
Offensive in its time. Years later he came to understand that the State
had taken on a burden.

This comrade argues that today the State should stop running small food
service enterprises; that the food service workers should all become
self-employed workers. In that way, the State doesn't have to supply
them with the merchandise that they offer, nor pay their salaries.

I share his opinion. Perhaps the State could sell them products at a
lower price than the general population pays, since they would be buying
wholesale. This would allow them to obtain a profit from their work
without having to sell their finished products at prices so high as to
affect the population as a whole.

I also believe that the State could rent them their sites at a price
that's not too high, so that these independent food service workers
could carry out their work. They could be the same people who currently
are working in food service, but the State wouldn't have to supply them
with merchandise or pay a salary.

The State would then not have to concern itself with theft or
misappropriation of resources. By working for themselves, the worker
would become the owner of the means of production and would not want to
steal from themselves.

Tackling Cuba's Food Service Blues - Havana (17 December 2009)

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